The Alcantara Gorge Has Unusual Rock Formations Created As Lava From Mount Etna Cooled
This gorge has a special place in the geography of Sicily, as the river that created it is one of the very few streams on the island that has water flowing along its course all year round.
The Alcantara River has its source on the southern side of Monti Nebrodi at an elevation of 1,250 metres. (4,100 feet)
The Nebrodi is a mountain range, part of the Sicilian Apennines, that runs along the north east coast of Sicily. The Alcantara River separates the Nebrodi to the north from the volcano of Mount Etna to the south.
Alcantara River Flowing Through The Gorge
Close to the source of the river is the town of Floresta which is considered to be the highest town in Sicily as it stands 1,300 metres above sea level. (4,275 feet)
The river runs for about 52 miles from its beginning, high in the mountains, to its mouth on the east coast near Capo Schiso in the commune of Giardini-Naxos, which is part of the Province of Messina.
Several thousand years ago the flow of the river was interrupted by an eruption of lava from Mount Etna. This lava was cooled far more rapidly than was normal by the cold waters of the Alcantara River as it rushed down the mountainside.
The Pentagonal And Hexagonal Column Shapes Are Clearly Visible In The Rock
This led to pentagonal and hexagonal column shapes being formed within the mass of rock.
Over the ensuing millenia the action of the river cut a channel through the rock to create the impressive Alcantara Gorge or the Gole dell"Alcantara as it is known in Italian.
It is calculated that the eruption from Mount Etna that formed this flow of lava took place around 2400 B.C.
Today the unique place that is the Alcantara Gorge has become a popular tourist attraction with visitors combining a tour around the town of Taormina with a trip to Mount Etna and a wade in the cool waters of the Alcantara River as it flows through the gorge.
The Town Of Taormina With Snow Capped Mount Etna In The Background
In 2001 the Alcantara River Park was created to both protect the river and encourage its use as a leisure area and a tourist destination.
As with most tourist attractions the world over, an attempt is made to make money from visitors to this natural wonder. However, you don`t have to pay the 8 euros (2012 prices) to enter the gorge unless you use the official entrance where you can ride an elevator down the cliff face to the bottom.
A short distance up the road is a sign marked "Ingresso Publico" and there a set of steep steps will take you down to the same place.
Whichever way you choose to enter the gorge, once you are at the bottom there are a number of different things to do.
Many people wade the waters of the river through the Alcantara Gorge to admire the rock formations and the cliffs that tower 50 metres skyward.
If you do this, a bathing suit is fine but wearing a pair of light shoes is recommended as there are some sharp stones beneath the water.
Others just enjoy lazing on a couple of small, pebbly beaches beside the river.
Families with young children should be aware that the current can be quite strong and the temperature of the water is around 17 degrees, cold but refreshing on a hot day!
A Small Beach Can Be Seen On The Left Hand Side Of The Gorge
If you have entered the Alcantara Gorge the official way then, one of the many attractions on offer is a guided two mile trip down the river "body surfing" with the current. A wet suit is provided and for the fit and adventurous, or families with teenagers, it is a great experience.
The Alcantara Gorge is not open all year round, so if you are planning a visit to this wonderful location then here is the official website where you can get more information.
This map of Sicily shows the location of the Alcantara River in the north east corner of the island -